Nurse Leaders vs. Nurse Managers

There are many similarities and differences between nurse leaders and nurse managers. A leader is any individual who motivates other people to act in a certain manner with the intention of achieving certain goals (Finkelman, 2012). Moreover, a leader accepts responsibility for the actions of individuals under them and can cooperate, listen to people, and prioritize goals. A manager, on the other hand, is an individual in a position of management with the function of ensuring organizational goals are met (Casida & Parker, 2011).

One of the similarities between a leader and a manager is the common role of ensuring that goals are achieved (Finkelman, 2012). Additionally, these individuals motivate their colleagues and subordinates to achieve these goals (Casida & Parker, 2011). While nurse managers are often in management positions, leaders can emerge at any level of an organization. Nurse managers also work within the context of the organization to ensure their goals are met while nurse leaders often consider social and environmental aspects of decision-making (Finkelman, 2012). Consequently, managers focus on procedures and control while leaders focus on visions and delegation of functions (Casida & Parker, 2011).

In the course of personal clinical experience, I have encountered nurse leaders and nurse managers. One of the nurse leaders encountered is bedside nurse who managed to delegate roles to students and her assistants with impressive results. An example of a nurse leader is the nursing officer in charge of the ward where this nurse worked. A comparison of the two individuals demonstrates the similarities between leaders and managers. While the leader communicated to subordinates in a controlling manner, the nurse leader delegated duties to different individuals. Regarding decision-making, the nurse manager was oriented towards the present while the nurse leader planned for the future (Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2014).

Empowerment of staff is important in differentiating between the two groups of nurses. Both nurses empowered their staff and colleagues evenly despite utilizing different methods to achieve motivation. While the manager used extrinsic motivation, the nurse leader utilized intrinsic motivation that was more effective (Finkelman, 2012). In critical thinking, the nurse manager used set goals and protocols to make decisions while the nurse leader often consulted widely and involved the staff in decision-making. Additionally, the nurse leader collaborated better with the juniors compared to the nurse manager who rarely interacted with the subordinates (Finkelman, 2012).

Aside from the aforementioned differences, each of the individuals carried out supervision of functions differently. While the nurse manager supervised nurses, the nurse leader allowed staff to work independently. However, the two individuals achieved similar results with their colleagues and subordinates. The last observed difference between the two individuals is the level of complexity they attached to their work (Casida & Parker, 2011). While the nurse leader preferred simplicity in delegating work and communicating to employees, the nurse manager was often happy with complexity.

A nurse manager can be a nurse leader is they exhibit leadership characteristics in their positions (Finkelman, 2012). However, a nurse leader does not have to be in a formal management position (Shapira-Lishchinsky, 2014). In cases where effective leadership qualities are absent, then a nurse manager cannot be said to be a nurse leader. It is important that nurses in management positions demonstrate effective leadership qualities to achieve organizational goals and objectives.


Casida, J., & Parker, J. (2011). Staff nurse perceptions of nurse manager leadership styles and outcomes. Journal of Nursing Management, 19(4), 478-486. Web.

Finkelman, A. (2012). Leadership and management for nurses: Core competencies for quality care (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Shapira-Lishchinsky, O. (2014). Simulations in nursing practice: toward authentic leadership. Journal of Nursing Management, 22(1), 60-69. Web.